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Letter: Wal-Mart, freezone or Nigerian money scam?

Published on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

I remember as a child that I was once sent to the store to buy some toilet bowl cleaner for my mother. She had mentioned a particular brand and, not seeing this brand, I decided to buy instead a chocolate wafer and proceeded to consume it on the way back home. It seemed like a good idea at the time until my mother asked me why I felt that a seven-year-old should make such a decision with her money, considering that I did not bring back the requested thing and now half the money was gone.

One of my colleagues rushed up to me yesterday after the announcement of the signing of the MOU by government for the ‘Shetty’ Hospital and said that his concern was that none of ‘us’ were consulted and the decision seemed to have been made independently by the government and ‘we’ would have liked to have had a say or at least give an opinion. It was then that my chocolate story came to mind and I wondered how something like this could come to pass without the involvement of the local doctors and without clear public revelation of the full nature of the deal. Possibly the enticement of the candy might have once again distracted from the purpose of the store visit?

It was likely that my colleague was concerned about his future livelihood in the Cayman Islands and that all that he had worked for could be swept away like Ivan in the wake of a cheaper health care offering, allowed in -- or rather invited in -- without any controls or consideration to the already existing health care on the island.

This is remarkably similar to the discomfort felt about the cheap mass produced business such as Wal-Mart in the USA because corner shop vendors eventually can’t compete with the bulk buying and savvy marketing research and huge investments. While there is opportunity for them to cut their losses and possibly join forces with these mega businesses to serve the public for a greater good, are there any employment or import preferences or concessions given to these giant businesses? I feel that if there were, those who opposed them would have found them by now and heaped legal mayhem upon them.

So this led me to seriously consider making rational sense of the situation especially since there was such mixed debate and I found myself in a peculiar situation where I felt bad for being critical, seeing as we are in such dire financial times. It reminded me of how little attempt was made to follow up on investigating Bernie Madoff while everyone was making money but I was also concerned that it was common in tough times to either sink your last chips into a rash bet or believe that there is money in the Bank of Nigeria that could be yours.

In this case, consultation and transparency may have pointed less in the direction of a scary, obscure government backed monopoly and more in the direction of a freezone, where this hospital and its lands can be seen as an extension of India, with concessions made in exchange for the benefits of property sales, local construction and employment of local workers but with the restriction of business to within this zone only and subscription from offshore patients or those referred from local doctors only -- just like a hedge fund or an embassy. If doctors can come over and be licensed in India but not licensed here, giving them the ability to provide a service that does not have the potential to compete with any services rendered here locally, we would be beginning to better appreciate and feel comfortable with what could be a great medical advance in our islands.

Dirk Belfonte
 
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